World's First Intercontinental Quantum-Safe Video Call Succeeds


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

The future is quantum. sdecoret/Shutterstock

Scientists in China and Austria have just engaged in the world’s first quantum-safe teleconferencing call, something that’s said to be unhackable. From quantum satellites to quantum communication underwater, China – obstinately the leader in this nascent technology – is really going full steam ahead with its network of Schrodinger’s cats.

So what does it mean to have a quantum call? It’s essentially a rather complex and secure way of sending and receiving information. Normally, data is sent via single particles one way through a transmission, then another. If someone intercepts that transmission, they can read the data being sent.


Quantum communication takes advantage of something spooky called quantum entanglement. As thoroughly described by the progenitor of that famous feline-based analogy, two particles – photons, say – that are separated by vast distances can sometimes act as a single system; what happens to one happens to the other, as if one is merely a reflection of its partner.

When particles are entangled, their state can only be viewed as a collective whole, not as separate segments. That way, if they’re used in communications networks, only those at either end of the “conversation” can understand what is being said – interception halfway is essentially impossible, which is where the unhackable label comes from.

Jointly run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Vienna, and the Austrian Academy of Science, this project used a satellite called Micius – named after an ancient Chinese philosopher – and its linked ground stations to make the video call between the two countries.

The call was encrypted this time using the direction of the “wobble” of the light wave being transmitted. If someone did try to listen in on the transmissions, their actions would cause the quantum state of the entangled photons and the polarization of light to change, which would set off alarm bells to those on the call.

Spooky action at a distance, as entanglement is sometimes known. GiroScience/Shutterstock

The world’s most high-tech Skype chat was a roaring success. Consequently, additional conversations using the quantum-safe technology are planned between China and Singapore, Italy, Germany, and Russia. If all goes well, then ultimately, the driving minds behind this project hope to have a European-Asian quantum-safe network up and running by 2020, with a global one penciled in for a decade later.

Several major nations are interested in having this secretive technology for obvious reasons, but China is by far and away leading the pack. This recent quantum-safe video chat is another notch on its belt in this regard.

At this stage, the US would be letting the future run away without it if it doesn't go all in on quantum communications.


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